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Smoking Decline in Young Adults Slowing, U.S. Report Finds

Smoking Decline in Young Adults Slowing, U.S. Report Finds
A cigarette in New York. Photographer: JB Reed/Bloomberg

One in three young adults is a cigarette smoker, according to a U.S. Surgeon General’s report that says a decline in tobacco use among youth has slowed in recent years.

Prevention efforts must focus on this demographic because surveys have shown that 88 percent of adult smokers were introduced to the habit by the time they were age 18, according to today’s report by Surgeon General Regina Benjamin. More than 3.6 million students smoke cigarettes, the report found.

About 30 percent of young smokers will quit, the report found, while half of those that continue will die from tobacco-related causes. Smoking early in life carries substantial risk, including cardiovascular damage and reduced lung function, according to the report.

“Targeted marketing encourages more young people to take up this deadly addiction every day,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, said in a statement. “This administration is committed to doing everything we can to prevent our children from using tobacco.”

A substantial minority of youth believe smoking controls body weight though there’s little evidence the assumption is true, according to the study’s authors. While there is evidence for lowered weight among smokers after age 35, there is no relationship in smokers who are younger.

‘Wakeup Call’

“This report underscores the critical importance of preventing tobacco use among youth and young adults,” Charles Connor, president and chief executive officer of the American Lung Association, said in a statement. “This is a wakeup call to all policymakers and community leaders that tobacco addiction is a vicious and deadly cycle.”

The report reveals “startling new information” on the immediate health effects on young people, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement. The city’s 10-year tobacco control effort has included taxes, hard-hitting public education campaigns and smoke-free air laws. Youth smoking in New York is at its lowest recorded levels, according to the statement.

Bloomberg is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

Effective interventions include higher taxes on cigarette and smoke-free policies. Spending on marketing and promoting tobacco products exceeds $1 million an hour, or $27 million a day, in the U.S., according to a press release on the report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

One of Five Deaths

Cigarette smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., accounting for about 443,000 fatalities, or about one out of every five deaths, in the U.S. each year, according to the report. The lung damage from tobacco use can be permanent, causes shortness of breath immediately and increased risk of pulmonary diseases later in life

Altria Group Inc.’s Philip Morris USA, U.S. Smokeless Tobacco and John Middleton aim marketing at adults, according to a statement from Richmond, Virginia-based company.

“We agree that with the surgeon general and others that kids should not use tobacco products,” according to the statement. “While significant progress has been made in reducing underage tobacco use over time, we agree that more work needs to be done.”

Philip Morris USA has made tobacco settlement agreement payments of more than $55 billion to the states since 1997. The states have available funds to spend more than $65 million per day on programs to discourage underage use yet only spend about $1 million per day, according to the statement.

The last such report on tobacco consumption by young adults was in 1994.

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